Immediate short term impacts of the Soweto Riots

Although Soweto was undoubtedly the epicentre of the 1976 uprising, the brutal
response by the police to the students’ peaceful march ignited a general revolt across the
country. After 16 June one township after another engaged in open revolt. It took only
one day for students from Alexandra to organise solidarity action with their comrades in
Soweto and for the uprising to engulf other townships in the vicinity of Soweto.
Initially the revolt took the form of solidarity marches with the students of Soweto
but quickly transformed into more generalised struggles against Bantu education and
apartheid. There were many similarities in the form and political content of the uprising
in different townships: they were mainly student-led; symbols of apartheid, especially
beer halls, became the primary targets; police repression was severe, which resulted
in large numbers of casualties; and Black Consciousness emerged as the unifying
ideology of the student movement. In addition, the introduction of Afrikaans was a
common immediate cause of student discontent. The effects of the structural crisis
of Bantu education were in evidence everywhere. Overcrowding, lack of resources,
unqualified teachers and the poor quality of education characterised township schools
and were among the principal underlying causes of student discontent everywhere.
Although the struggles in other townships generally copied the template established
by the Soweto uprising, there were also local variations that were shaped by local
actors and circumstances. Possibly the main difference between Soweto and other
townships was that the struggles in these other places neither reached the same levels
of intensity nor were as protracted as in Soweto. The level of organisation, the role of
workers and hostel dwellers and the role of the police also varied significantly across
the townships.


Antoinette Pieterson: Perspective

As we came out from hiding, I was scared and I said: ‘It seems this is going
to go on and on. So what can one do?’ I was thinking very hard and I forgot
about Hector … We came on foot. That’s another problem. Even if you want
to go home, how are you going to go home? So I was thinking about that
… I looked around … thinking maybe he’s still hiding. He’s small. Maybe
he’s still hiding, he’s still frightened … I told myself that I’m not going to
move from that place. He might come looking for me. Let me stay here.
While I was there, thinking about that, I could see a group of boys, about
three or four, at a distance … They were struggling and other students who
were hanging around on the pavement were going to that scene … I want
to go there but I don’t know how because I’m thinking of Hector that he
might look for me and not find me … I was very scared. It’s almost about
seven minutes and Hector hasn’t come out. My heart was beating so fast but
I tried to get hold of myself. As they came closer, the gentleman … whom
I knew later [as] Mbuyisa Makhubo … lifted … a body and, as he lifted it
higher, the first thing that I saw was the front part of Hector’s shoe. Then
I said: ‘Those shoes belong to Hector!’ I just said that and I just went to
the scene. Mbuyisa was already running. And on the way when we were
running I asked him: ‘Who are you?This is my brother, I’ve been looking
for him.’ I didn’t know how to explain myself.



Soweto Riots: The beginning

To explain the Soweto uprising different authors place emphasis on various factors.
Some highlight structural changes in the economy and society, including political
changes brought about by apartheid; some stress the emergence of youth subcultures
in Soweto’s secondary schools in the 1970s; some emphasise the transformative role
of Black Consciousness and its associated organisations; others give prominence to
revolutionary theory and stress the role of the various liberation movements; some
underline the ideological role of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction at selected
schools; and others insist on educational, epistemological and pedagogical factors
that fostered resistance through the ‘autonomous’ actions of parents and students.
All these important causal factors need to be taken into account when analysing the
historical origins of the Soweto uprising.